Friday, September 4, 2020

Mulan

♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Mulan (Yifei Liu) has always been the tomboyish type, with her qi akin to that of a warrior, always causing concern in her household. But now that she is finally a young woman, she needs to conform to what society expects of her, meaning finding a match for marriage. She is reluctant to do so despite the prodding of her parents Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) and Hua Li (Rosalind Chao) for her to bring honor to the family by marrying a reputable guy. Meanwhile, the Rouran warriors north of the border led by Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) are gaining ground in their revenge plot against the Chinese Emperor (Jet Li). With the help of shapeshifting witch Xianniang (Gong Li), they ransack and massacre one garrison right after the other, prompting a kingdom-wide decree for each family to enlist at least one son in the army. Knowing her father wouldn’t make it back alive given his ailing health, Mulan steals his sword and armor and takes off in the middle of the night, taking his place.

I have never seen the animated version. I find it weird because growing up it was probably the closest we could get to being represented in a Disney animated feature, but back then I just wasn’t interested. As such, I have no idea what the clamor is about regarding the absence of a talking dragon and the like. The extent of my knowledge about the Disney cartoon was the song Reflection: by Lea Salonga because of the Filipino connection; and by Christina Aguilera because it was really popular back in the day.

I watched this because of Gong Li. Sorry not sorry. Once a fanboy, always a fanboy. In fact, I found myself more invested in her character than Mulan herself. My curiosity about the witch is multilayered, but mostly focusing on her motivations which are rather ill-defined. Why is she playing second fiddle to the Mongolian Barbecue Guy when she is obviously way more superior in every way? Wiki says it's because she believes he sees her as an equal. Girl, he sees you as nothing more than a flying one-woman ballista. Take a hint?

I also find the contrast to be rather amusing and confusing at the same time. Here is a sorceress who can give Mongolian Barbecue Guy a run for his money. All he possesses is brute strength after all. Our girl Gong Li has magic, for crying out loud. And then you have Mulan who pulls off an impromptu Pantene commercial mid-battle and suddenly everyone is raving about her despite feigning disapproval at first because the director said so. I don’t think getting rid of your upper body armor and letting your long locks flow is a wise move in the midst of dodging arrows and flaming cannonballs at the battlefield. You suicidal, biatch?

And then it dawned on me, maybe that’s the social commentary behind it. No matter how much power our girl Gong Li wields, society will never accept her. Because she is a woman. While Mulan is suddenly empowered by all the recognition the MEN around her are suddenly so willing to give. It serves as a metaphor for society acknowledging her capabilities regardless of her gender. We can argue that validation should come from within, yet isn’t it the bitter truth that without society’s approval, one's potential is basically hindered from the get-go? In this regard, I applaud the argument, though I found it befuddling at first.

Another question I had while watching the film was where the heck is Jet Li? The movie ended and still no Jet Li in sight, until the credits said, hey, Jet Li is the emperor, bruh. Hmmkay, kudos to the costume designers and make-up team, I barely recognized the guy! But I guess that’s fine because Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) was able to get some action scenes anyway, although the scenes could not give justice to a martial artist of his caliber. He seemed bored AF.

Overall, I wouldn’t say that I was totally amused, but I wasn’t disappointed either. I probably would have seen this in a cinema sans Corona. Now I wonder if I should watch the animated version.

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